The future of a little boy

Elian Gonzalez: A child's welfare is better served by judges than by politicians.

January 29, 2000

CONGRESS SHOULD stay out of the dispute over Elian Gonzalez. It is capable of great harm and no good. The issue rests in federal District Court in Miami, an imperfect forum for resolving the aftermath of family tragedy, but better than any other.

The weight of family values and family law in all U.S. states favors giving custody to the surviving parent supported by all four grandparents, against the claims of a great uncle who had no previous contact with the 6-year-old.

Not everyone will admire Lazaro Gonzalez for teaching his grand-nephew such American ways as wearing gold chains and playing with beepers at a tender age. Still, most Americans would agree with Mr. Gonzalez and the Cuban American National Foundation that Florida is a better environment in which to grow up than Communist Cuba.

A family court judge would weigh the ideological issue against family values. A judge outside the United States might dwell not only on the lack of freedom in Cuba but also on the reputed violence, crime, drugs and ethnic tensions of South Florida.

Judge William M. Hoeveler, however, has delayed a resolution until at least March 6, while he considers such preliminary legal issues as whether anyone other than the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has legal standing to speak for Elian, and whether a 6-year-old is capable of seeking political asylum.

In that period, Elian will pick up more American ways distressing to his grandmothers and more command of English. Six-year-olds are wonderfully rapid learners.

Fidel Castro is demagogically turning a traumatized little boy into a political football. The Cuban American National Foundation and its supporters are behaving badly in the same way. Republicans in Congress should resist the temptation to do the same.

There is no telling whether Elian's father and grandmothers are acting under coercion. That is equally true of the South Florida branch of the family.

This is best left to the courts, which should move as expeditiously as they can in the little boy's interests. But whoever keeps Elian from his father and grandparents will have to explain that in terms of family values and the good of the child.

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